Our personal interest in the country of Haiti, which was devastated by a massive earthquake on Tuesday, is twofold. First, we have three teenage nephews who were born there. Given up by parents who had no hope of being able to raise them in this, the western hemisphere’s poorest nation, they were adopted by my sister and her husband. Last summer, Linda, Jeff and the boys traveled back to Haiti on a one week mission trip with the New Missions organization.
Our second attachment to Haiti is Marie, the 15 year old girl who we have been sponsoring through New Missions since 2004. For $31 a month, we have been able to offer her an education in a country where only 2% of the children finish high school and about 40% of the adult population is illiterate. In addition, she receives regular health check-ups and medical care, a nutritious hot meal every day and gifts at Christmas and her birthday. I believe that we are also offering her hope for a better future. In one of her recent letters she mentioned that she wants to be a nurse someday.
New Missions is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian organization centered on the Leogane Plain, 30 km southwest of Port au Prince and even closer than that to the epicenter of this week’s devastating earthquake. Started by George and Jeanne DeTellis in January 1983 with five tents under a grove of coconut trees, it has grown to include 21 churches, 22 elementary schools, a high school, a medical clinic, a Bible college and a business school. Funded entirely through donations and child sponsorships, it employs over 300 Haitian nationals who were raised through its ministry and who now serve as teachers, pastors and administrators. Today, over 9000 children attend New Missions schools. The ministry has recently expanded into the Dominican Republic.
We have been in constant communication with New Missions over the past couple of days through their website, email and Facebook. Though we have not had specific word concerning her, we have reason to believe that Marie is okay. We do know that the missions team is safe and that they have enough food, water and diesel fuel to last a month. We also know that
• a kindergarten teacher died
• the deaths of four school children have been confirmed
• two elementary school buildings were damaged beyond repair
• the medical clinic building is damaged beyond repair
• the mission’s main office is damaged beyond repair
• two churches are damaged beyond repair
The remainder of the buildings are being evaluated to determine what other damage has occurred. In addition to food distribution which started the morning following the earthquake, a top priority is to hire nurses for each of the school locations to provide medical care for children who may have been injured in the earthquake itself or who may suffer from illnesses or infections in its aftermath.
Reporters tell of an eery quiet in the usually noisy city of Port au Prince where stunned Haitians walk the streets in silence but on Wednesday morning New Missions’ president, Timothy DeTellis, described Leogane this way, “The amazing sight in the middle of all the tragedy was villagers singing songs of praise along the road last night.” I am humbled.